The Turing Test

July 17, 2008 at 12:44 AM | Posted in history | Leave a comment
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In 1950, Alan Turing, a computer science pioneer, suggested a simple test to assess the thinking power of machines.  A human would converse with either a program or another human through a computer interface and would try to guess which it was speaking to.  Programs consistently capable of fooling its judges into thinking they were human could be said to emulate intelligence.  Turing figured that trying to measure whether programs really thought would be very difficult — after all, defining creativity or intelligence has been the source of philosophical debate for centuries.  He predicted, though, that within a few decades, computers would be good enough at his test that arguments over whether they could think would become irrelevant.

A quick look at a hilarious transcript from the Loebner Prize competition shows that his prediction hasn’t come true.  Each year, chat bots like George, pictured above, are entered into this competition and the most convincing one wins a cash prize.

These bots may not even come close to passing as human, but they sure are entertaining to talk to!  Try the following:

  • Eliza – one of the first programs of its kind, written in the 60s
  • A.L.I.C.E – winner of the 2000, 2001 and 2004 Loebner Prize
  • Jabberwacky – winner of the 2005 and 2006 Loebner Prize

Jabberwacky and A.L.I.C.E both learn from their conversations with different people but Eliza only looks for key words and responds with stock sentences.  Loops, conditionals and a way to read user input are enough to replicate most of its behavior — cool!

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At least we’re not using punch cards

June 23, 2008 at 11:22 PM | Posted in history | Leave a comment
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Punch cards were used as early as the 1700s to program textile looms or player pianos.  By the early 1900s, they were used to store and process data in the precursors to modern computers. In fact, IBM was originally called the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation and produced machines for creating and manipulating punch cards well into the 1970s.

Programmers using punch cards either used a keypunch to enter their programs one line at a time or would send handwritten sheets to an operator for entry.  The stack of cards they received after this painstaking process was completely untested.  The programmer would then have to give their deck to another operator and wait until computer time was available for the program to be run.  Once it did run, they got a paper print out of any output, often an error.

How different punch card codes work.

Check out a cultural history of the punch card.

Write out your own cards using different codes.

There’s even art made of punch cards.

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